Evidence from the #iwill campaign for DfE’s written call for evidence on Character

There is lots of evidence from across the #iwill campaign that demonstrates the power social action has to develop and empower young people to be compassionate, active citizens, and, in turn, the impact this can have on communities. Below is a summary of top lines for demonstrating the impact social action has and how it develops young people’s character and transforms communities. 

This summary is with thanks to #iwill partners across sectors, particularly those in research and education. The post includes:

  • What are the benefits of youth social action for young people and communities?
  • What role do schools play in developing compassionate, active citizens through youth social action?
  • Embedding youth social action in schools and colleges is a critical lever to tackling persistent social mobility issues in the UK

What are the benefits of youth social action for young people and communities?

By participating in youth social action young people develop their character:

They develop the skills employers want:

They experience greater well being and improved mental health:

  • The National Youth Social Action Survey has been running annually since 2014, carrying out face-to-face interviews with young people across the UK aged 10-20. It has consistently shown that social action is associated with higher levels of well-being and that young people participating in social action have stronger personal networks.
  • Evaluations of youth social action programmes have also supported this link to well-being. NCS graduates consistently show higher levels of life satisfaction compared to the national average, whilst taking part in the Scouts or Guides appears to help lower the risk of mental illness in later life. Furthermore the Wildlife Trust has shown volunteering in nature improves mental wellbeing with more than two thirds of participants reporting an improvement after just 6 weeks. In one of the BIT-tested youth social action programmes for Primary School, called Go-Givers, young people reported reduced anxiety by over a fifth.

Youth Social Action can improve attainment:

  • The EEF’s RCTs focussing on in-school social action, find that peer tutoring has shown a positive impact on learning, equivalent to approximately 5 additional months’ progress.
  • The EEF RCT with Children’s University shows social action activities have a positive impact on maths and reading in KS2, as well as non-cognitive outcomesii.
  • A meta-analysis of 62 RCTs completed in the United States reveals that when social action was integrated into the curriculum there was an improvement in academic performance.

Through participation in social action, communities become better integrated:

  • The Social Integration Commission recommends youth social action as a way to address the lack of social integration that costs our economy an estimated £6bn each year.
  • Engaging young people with vulnerable groups in health & social care settings increases understanding and tolerance of these groups, leading to enhanced community integration and understanding, increased community networks and capacity.

There are significant benefits to starting social action young: 

What role do schools play in developing compassionate, active citizens through youth social action?

  • Schools are the key route into youth social action for ALL young people (National Youth Social Action Survey 2014-18)
  • Since 2016, more teachers in secondary say youth social action is part of their school culture and practice (73% 2018 vs 48% 2016 – NFER Teacher Voice Omnibus)
  • More Primary school teachers say the same, though they are doing less than Secondaries (18% 2016 vs 48% 2018)
  • 87% of teachers wished their school prepared their students to have a positive difference to society, but only 37% think their school actually does (YouGov, TeacherTapp, Big Change 2019)
  • Young people who are doing social action say their school treats them differently to those who don’t (National Youth Social Action Survey 2018)
    • 68% (who have participated in social action) believe “at our school pupils have a say in planning and organising activities and school events” compared to 27% who haven’t participated
    • 70% say “at my school, my ideas are taken seriously” compared to 28% who haven’t participated.
    • 83% say “I feel like I belong at this school” compared to 54% who have not participated.

Research has also shown that schools have an important role to play in harnessing the passion young people have for taking environmental social action

  • Over a third (42%) of young people aged 9-18 say they have learnt only a little, hardly anything or nothing about the environment at school.
  • 68% are interested in learning more about the environment.
  • 86% agree that ‘all schools and colleges should be doing things that help the environment.

Embedding youth social action in schools and colleges is a critical lever to tackling persistent social mobility issues in the UK

  • There is a persistent socio-economic gap in participation reported by both young people and by teachers in schools
    • The National Youth Social Action Survey shows the gap in participation between those from the most and least affluent backgrounds to be significant and persistent at 52% vs. 27% in 2018 – similar to the baseline of 51% vs 31% from the first survey in 2014.
    • It is not that young people from lower income backgrounds have a lack of motivation or appetite to participate but instead that 70% of young people who don’t participate in social action identifying a range of barriers that prevent participation connected to opportunities and awareness of them. 
    • The appetite for social action remains strong: the majority of young people, 60% (2018)  have taken part in some form of social action over the last 12 months.
    • In 2014, 81% of secondary school pupils in England said they wanted their school to do more to support them to participate in social action. However there is a significant gap between those teaching in schools with the highest % of students receiving Free School Meals (FSM) compared to those with the lowest %FSM (40% highest%FSM vs. 69% lowest%FSM in 2018) according to NFER
  • But the picture is improving – more schools serving the highest%FSM students are saying that youth social action is part of their school culture & practice (give stats – 69% in 2016 vs 41% in 2018)
  • Research shows that schools are the most egalitarian route into social action – cumulative analysis of the national youth social action survey data indicates that at Key Stage 3 when the influence of school as a pathway into social action is strong for all socio-economic groups, there is little difference in engagement between young people from different backgrounds.
  • The #iwill fund learning hub papers published in May 2019 show that the gap in participation in social action participation between the ages of 10-20 persists into adulthood as seen in adult volunteering statistics nationally. 
  • The paper suggests the best way to overcome this gap could be by focusing on peer-to-peer mentoring, whole school approaches, targeted opportunities using hooks such as football, and, making activities youth led. 
  • School and College leaders who embed youth social action so that all their students can participate say there are four key actions any school or college can do.
    • Put youth social action at the heart of your school/college 
      • embed it in mission/vision/values; 
      • make it the lens to apply curriculum knowledge; 
      • appoint a senior leader to lead
    • Inspire & reward youth social action 
      • recognise young people’s social action in & out of school; 
      • inspire with social action role-models; 
      • recruit staff who are committed
    • Empower young people to lead
      • ask their opinions & harness their passions; 
      • start as early as possible – 5 years old is not too young to make a difference
    • Build partnerships to help young people have an impact 
      • local and national youth social action providers; 
      • local charities, employers, health & social care settings; environment centres etc; 
      • connect with other schools to share best practice